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Reeves v. Dunn

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

May 1, 2019

JEFFERSON D. DUNN, Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend the Court's Judgment denying his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.[1](Docs. 31, 43). For the reasons discussed herein, the motion is DENIED.

         I. Procedural Background.

         On January 8, 2019, the undersigned entered an Order (doc. 29) and Judgment (doc. 30) denying Matthew Reeves's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in its entirety. (Docs. 1, 24). The ruling did grant a certificate of appealability (“COA”) on one presented issue, Claim 3.b., whether counsel rendered ineffective assistance for failing to hire an expert to investigate his intellectual disability.

         Reeves now moves for reconsideration of three specifically enumerated aspects of the January 8 Order and Judgement. Reeves requests the following relief: (1) reconsideration of the finding that Reeves is not intellectually disabled under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), Claim 1; (2) reconsideration that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reasonably rejected Reeves's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase, Claim 3.c.; and (3) reconsideration that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reasonably rejected Reeves's juror misconduct claim at the pleading stage without an evidentiary hearing, Claim 4. (Docs. 31, 43). Alternatively, Reeves requests that if Rule 59(e) relief is not granted, that the Court expand its Certificate of Appealability to include the presented issues to the Court of Appeals. (Id.).

         II. Legal Standard for Motion to Reconsider.

         The Eleventh Circuit has summarized the limited scope of relief that is available to a litigant under Rule 59(e):

"The only grounds for granting [a Rule 59] motion are newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact." In re Kellogg, 197 F.3d 1116, 1119 (11th Cir. 1999). "[A] Rule 59(e) motion [cannot be used] to relitigate old matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Michael Linet, Inc. v. Village of Wellington, Fla., 408 F.3d 757, 763 (11th Cir. 2005).

Arthur v. King, 500 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2007); see also Jacobs v. Tempur-Pedic Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 1327, 1344 (11th Cir. 2010) ("Reconsidering the merits of a judgment, absent a manifest error of law or fact, is not the purpose of Rule 59."); Stone v. Wall, 135 F.3d 1438, 1442 (11th Cir. 1998) ("The purpose of a Rule 59(e) motion is not to raise an argument that was previously available, but not pressed."); Hughes v. Stryker Sales Corp., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64439, 2010 WL 2608957, *2 (S.D. Ala. June 28, 2010) (rejecting notion that motions to reconsider "are appropriate whenever the losing party thinks the District Court got it wrong"). "They are neither appeal substitutes nor a 'dry run' to test arguments in anticipation of a forthcoming appeal." Lee, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107328, 2012 WL 3137901, at *2.

         To prevail on a motion to reconsider, '[t]he losing party must do more than show that a grant of the motion might have been warranted; he must demonstrate a justification for relief so compelling that the court was required to grant the motion.' Maradiaga v. United States, 679 F.3d 1286, 1291 (11th Cir. 2012) (citations and internal marks omitted)." Lee v. Thomas, No. CIV.A. 10-0587-WS-M, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107328, 2012 WL 3137901, at *2 n.1 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 1, 2012) (Steele, J.).

         III. Analysis.

         Turning to Reeves's current motion, it is imperative to keep in mind the posture of this case - that is, Reeves petitioned this Court for habeas relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This statute “imposes important limitations on the power of federal courts to overturn the judgments of state courts in criminal cases.” Shoop v. Hill, 139 S.Ct. 504, 506, 202 L.Ed.2d 461 (2019). A federal habeas court "may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Greene v. Upton, 644 F.3d 1145, 1154 (11th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). Rather, "[t]o obtain habeas relief a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in the federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Evans v. Secretary, Dep't of Corrections, 703 F.3d 1316, 1326 (1th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). Under § 2254(d) deference, "only if there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with the Supreme Court's precedents may relief be granted." Johnson v. Secretary, DOC, 643 F.3d 907, 910 (11th Cir. 2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Holsey v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison, 694 F.3d 1230, 1257 (11th Cir. 2012) ("if some fairminded jurists could agree with the state court's decision, although others might disagree, federal habeas relief must be denied") (citation omitted). "If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be." Holsey, 694 F.3d at 1257 (citation omitted); see also Loggins v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1204, 1220 (11th Cir. 2011) ("[T]he deference due is heavy and purposely presents a daunting hurdle for a habeas petitioner to clear."). "Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102-03 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         It is under this highly deferential standard that Reeves's habeas petition was denied.

         A. Reconsideration of Intellectual Disability under Atkins.

         Petitioner Reeves's first ground for seeking relief under Rule 59(e) relates to Claim 1 of his habeas petition. In his habeas petition, Reeves alleges that he is intellectually disabled and his capital sentence, thus, violates the Eighth Amendment pursuant to the holding of Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). The record reveals that Reeves received IQ scores within a standard error of measurement (“SEM”) range of 63 to 78, that the experts presented conflicting opinions at the Rule 32 hearing as to whether Reeves is intellectually disabled, and the state court credited the opinion of Dr. King over Dr. Goff in concluding that Reeves is not intellectually disabled. In the January 8 Order, this Court found that Reeves failed to carry his burden of proving that the state court's determination was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States” or that the decision “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (2). Relying primarily on Moore v. Texas, for the first time, Reeves asserts in his motion for reconsideration that the Court's rejection of his Atkins claim rested on manifest errors of law and fact because it impermissibly relied on extrinsic factors unrelated to determining intellectual functioning to disregard the lower SEM range of IQ scores[2] and emphasized Reeve's perceived strengths in adaptive functioning over the acknowledged deficits.

         In Moore, the Supreme Court vacated a Texas Criminal Court of Appeals judgment which determined Moore was not intellectually disabled based on evidentiary factors announced in Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d 1 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004), rather than current medical diagnostic standards. Moore v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 1039. Briseno utilized an outdated definition and diagnostic standard for assessing intellectual disability from the 1992 edition of the American Association on Mental Retardation's (“AAMR”) manual. The Briseno test required that adaptive deficits be related to intellectual functioning deficits and identified seven evidentiary factors (“without citation to any medical or judicial authority”) relevant to determining intellectual disability. 137 S.Ct. at 1046-47. The Texas appellate court utilized the Briseno factors in determining Moore failed to prove significant subaverage intellectual functioning with IQ scores of 78 and 74 (rejecting 5 of 7 IQ tests as unreliable). The appellate court “discounted the lower end of the standard-error range associated with” the score of 74 “observ[ing] that Moore's history of academic failure, and the fact that he took the test while ‘exhibit[ing] withdrawn and depressive behavior' on death row might have hindered his performance.” Id. at 1047. The appellate court then concluded Moore failed to prove he suffered significant limitations in adaptive functioning due to Moore's adaptive strengths, which included living on the streets, playing pool and mowing lawns for money, committing the crime in a sophisticated way and then fleeing, testifying and representing himself at trial, and developing skills in prison. Id. The Court granted certiorari to determine whether the appellate court's adherence to superseded medical standards and reliance on Briseno complied with the Eighth Amendment and Court precedent and held it did not.

         The Moore Court found the appellate court considered “the presence of other sources of imprecision in administering the [IQ] test to [Reeves]” and noted that such unique factors “cannot narrow the test-specific standard-error range” and the appellate court was required based on the SEM range “to move on to consider Moore's adaptive functioning”. Id. at 1049-50. The Court further concluded that the appellate court overemphasized Moore's perceived adaptive strengths in determining he did not suffer significant adaptive deficits. In particular, the Court identified traumatic experiences in Moore's life which the Texas appellate court discounted, like childhood abuse and academic failure, that clinicians consider “risk factors” and rely on in determining intellectual disability. Similarly, the Court found the appellate court “departed from clinical practice by requiring Moore to show that his adaptive deficits were not related to ‘a personality disorder'”, id. at 1051, when the medical community acknowledges the coexistence of personality disorders and mental health issues in the intellectually disabled. Lastly, the Court viewed the Briseno factors as “exceedingly subjective” and deemed such factors as “lay perceptions of intellectual disability.” Id. In rejecting the Briseno factors, the Court indicated that no other state legislature approved the Briseno factors or anything similar and that Texas itself failed to follow Briseno in contexts other than the death penalty. The Court maintained that while states have flexibility in enforcing Atkins, they do not have ‘unfettered discretion' or ‘complete autonomy to define intellectual disability as they wished'. Id. at 1053 (quoting Hall, 134 S.Ct. at 1998-99). Specifically, “[t]he medical community's current standards supply one constraint on States' leeway in this area.” Id. The Court thus held that:

By rejecting the habeas court's application of medical guidance and clinging to the standard it laid out in Briseno, including the wholly nonclinical Briseno factors, the CCA failed adequately to inform itself of the “medical community's diagnostic framework, ” Hall, 572 U.S., at___-___, 134 S.Ct. 1986, 2000, 188 L.Ed.2d 1007, 1025. Because Briseno pervasively infected the CCA's analysis, the decision of that court cannot stand.

Id. at 1053.

         Notably, the 2017 decision of Moore was decided after the trial and appellate court determined Reeves was not intellectually disabled in 2009 and 2016, respectively, and cannot be considered “clearly established law” pursuant to § 2254(d)(1). See Shoop v. Hill, __ U.S., 139 S.Ct. 504, 502, 202 L.Ed.2d 461, 465 (2019) (“The Court of Appeals' reliance on Moore was plainly improper under § 2254(d)(1), and we therefore vacate that decision and remand so that Hill's claim regarding intellectual disability can be evaluated based solely on holdings of this Court that were clearly established at the relevant time.”). Consequently, Reeves's reliance on Moore v. Texas is misplaced and improper. Nevertheless, Reeves contends that Moore is applicable because the holding did not establish a new rule of law but “merely applied the law that the Supreme Court established in Hall.” (Doc. 31-1 at 7, n.2). Such suggestion, however, extends Hall (and Atkins) beyond what the case(s) actually held, and this Court is bound to “determine whether its conclusions can be sustained based strictly on legal rules that were clearly established in the decisions of [the Supreme] Court at the relevant time.” Shoop, 139 S.Ct. at 509. Accordingly, this Court is required to analyze Reeves's habeas petition and this motion based on that which was “clearly established” at the time the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Reeves's intellectual disability claim. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).

         Based on the laws in place at the time of the state court's decision, denial of Reeves's intellectual disability claim does not rest on manifest errors of law or fact and Reeves's arguments are simply a rehash of old arguments. There is no “binding Supreme Court precedent, [that] only IQ tests that account for the SEM are relevant to the first prong [in determining significant subaverage intellectual functioning.]”[3] (Doc. 31-1 at 9-10) (emphasis added). Nor did federal law exist condemning consideration of adaptive strengths when evaluating adaptive functioning. Rather, the law at the time of Reeves's decision instructed that:

[t]he legal determination of intellectual disability is distinct from a medical diagnosis, but it is informed by the medical community's diagnostic framework. Atkins itself points to the diagnostic criteria employed by psychiatric professionals. And the professional community's teachings are of particular help in this case, where no alternative definition of intellectual disability is presented and where this Court and the States have placed substantial reliance on the expertise of the medical profession.

Hall, 572 U.S. 701, 134 S.Ct. 1986, 2000, 188 L.Ed.2d 1007 (2014) (emphasis added); see also Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 413, 122 S.Ct. 867, 151 L.Ed.2d 856 (2002) (“[T]he science of psychiatry . . . informs but does not control ultimate legal determinations . . .”). Indeed, the record reflects that the state court relied on the expertise of medical professionals, namely Drs. Goff and King, in determining Reeves is not intellectually disabled. Both doctors testified at the Rule 32 hearing as to their experience, testing procedures, and provided a diagnostic opinion based on clinical judgment. In accordance with the law at the time, the state court properly recognized that Reeves's IQ fell within “a range of scores on either side of the recorded score” and that his “true IQ score lies” somewhere within this SEM range. Hall, 572 U.S. at 712-13 (“The professionals who design, administer, and interpret IQ tests have agreed, for years now, that IQ test scores should be read not as a single fixed number but as a range.”). Based on this SEM range, as instructed by the established law at the time, Reeves was allowed to “present additional evidence of intellectual disability, including testimony regarding adaptive deficits.” Id. at 713. The findings of these tests were interpreted by expert medical professionals. The medical experts, however, offered opposing diagnoses based on their clinical judgment, [4] and the court credited Dr. King's testimony over Dr. Goff's.[5] Consequently, it cannot be said that the state court's decision (centered on Dr. King's clinical judgment that Reeves is not intellectually disabled (and that he does not suffer significant subaverage intellectual functioning nor substantial deficits in adaptive functioning)) was contrary to establish federal law or based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.[6]

         Reeves has failed to establish newly discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact. At best, Reeves reiterates arguments already made, which the Court already rejected. Rule 59(e) is not an appropriate vehicle to “relitigate old matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Frantz v. Walled, 513 Fed.Appx. 815, 822 (11th Cir. 2013). In short, Reeves has not set forth any basis for Rule 59(e) relief, and his motion is denied as to this claim. Additionally, Reeves has failed to put forth a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right; thus, a Certificate of Appealability is not warranted as to this claim. Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 483-484, 120 S.Ct. 1595, 146 L.Ed.2d 542 (2000).

         B. Reconsideration of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel during Penalty Phase.

         Petitioner Reeves's second ground for seeking relief relates to Claim 3.c. of his habeas petition. Reeves contends that the Court incorrectly concluded that trial counsel's decision not to hire a mitigation expert was not objectively unreasonable under Strickland and that he was not prejudiced by the decision. Specifically, Reeves argues that the Court should reconsider its holding that counsel was not ineffective during the penalty phase of the trial for three reasons: (1) that evidence of the reason for trial counsel's decision is not necessary to establish ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) that ample evidence was presented that established counsel did not make an informed or strategic decision; (3) that counsel possessed records concerning Reeves's background does not preclude a finding of deficient performance. These claims have previously been presented to the Court through Reeves's §2254 habeas petition and appear to be nothing more than an attempt to reargue previously dismissed claims. Arthur v. King, 500 F.3d 1335, 1343-44 (11th Cir. 2007) (“A Rule 59(e) motion cannot be used to relitigate old matters….”). The Court finds that relief was properly denied as reasoned in its January 8 Order but briefly addresses Reeves's claims for the sake of clarity.

         To start, Reeves contends that the Court “contorted the Strickland test when it held Reeves must provide evidence that ‘sheds . . . light on the reasoning behind counsel's actions' to prevail on his ineffective-assistance claim” and “that only ‘evidence . . . that the complained of actions were not the result of reasonable strategy' can rebut Strickland's presumption of reasonableness.” (Doc. 31-1 at 13, 15) (quoting the January 8 Order at p. 44). These misquotations of the January 8 Order are out of context and ignore the fundamental analysis conducted therein - that is that Reeves failed to carry his burden of showing that there was “[no] reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). In fact, Reeves misconstrues this Court's review standard pursuant to §2254 in his motion to reconsider.

         Importantly, under AEDPA, federal courts are prohibited from granting habeas relief for any claim adjudicated on the merits on state court, unless one of the exceptions listed in § 2254(d) applies. Relevant to Reeves's claim, is §2254(d)(1)'s exception that this Court is permitted to grant habeas relief if the state court decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). The applicable federal law in question here is Strickland. To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel under Strickland, the petitioner "must show both deficient performance by counsel and prejudice." Premo v. Moore, 562 U.S. 115, 121, 131 S.Ct. 733, 178 L.Ed.2d 649 (2011) (internal quotes omitted). "To establish deficient performance, a person challenging a conviction must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," and "[a] court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a strong presumption that counsel's representation was within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. (internal quotes omitted). "The question is whether an attorney's representation amounted to incompetence under prevailing professional norms, not whether it deviated from best practices or common custom." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011) (internal quotes omitted). To establish prejudice for purposes of Stri ...

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